Two major numismatic rarities will be offered by Dix Noonan Webb in the firm’s Feb. 11 London auction.
Top billing goes to a newly discovered Australian George V 1921 pattern or specimen shilling with a five-pointed star above the date, one of just six minted. It has spent the last few decades unrecognized in a private collection.
The coin owes its existence to World War I and the subsequent world-wide economic upheaval. Post-war the price of gold and silver rose sharply. The upshot saw the silver content of many coins exceed their face values. For example, by early 1920 an Australian shilling contained one shilling and fourpence (25 cents) worth of silver.
As a consequence the British government took a decision in 1920 to reduce the silver content of its coins from .925 fine, i.e. sterling, to .500 fine. It was expected other countries of the Empire would follow suit with Canada doing so the same year although to just a modest .800 fine.
New reverse Australian silver dies had been prepared by London’s Royal Mint. All carried a small star above the date to indicate the reduced fineness of the coins they were intended to produce. Thirty pairs of working dies with stars were dispatched to the Sydney Mint from London in October 1920.
By the time these arrived and the Australian coins were ready for production the price of silver had dropped sufficiently to make the exercise pointless. Not all the dies were wasted. Some were used to strike 522,000 1921 shillings in .925 silver, despite all having stars above the date. Although this star is not a mintmark its presence on these coins does indicate they were stuck at the Sydney Mint.
In addition a limited number of trial strikes of patterns or specimens were made from both the 1920 and 1921 florin and shilling Royal Mint dies.
The coin to be offered by DNW is just one of six known to have been minted of this type. It is only lightly toned and in superior condition to examples of the 1920 and 1921 Australian patterns housed in Melbourne’s Museum of Victoria.
The auction house has been unable to trace any sale of a 1921 star-over-date pattern shilling in the last 30 years. As a consequence, when the piece goes to the auction block, it is expected to carry an estimate of at least £100,000 to £120,000 ($150,000-$200,000). Greg McDonald’s Australian pocket coin catalog prices a 1920 star-over-date shilling pattern at $300,000. He does not list the 1921 coin.
However, if Australian silver rarities are not your métier, perhaps a British George V 1910 pattern crown in gold by A.G. Wyon might appeal. One of just two known will be offered in the same DNW sale. It comes with an estimate of £80,000 to £100,000 ($125,000-150,000).